When sociologists and political theorists write history, the effect is often like drinking skimmed milk instead of the full-fat variety. The quirks of history are absent, rather like the cream. In The Great Recoil, however, the sociologist Paolo Gerbaudo provides a rich helping of recent history. His brilliant book should be essential reading for those interested in the current state of European social democracy, although conservatism is also succumbing to its own crises too. Both ends of the spectrum have seen populist insurgents eating their electoral lunch.
The ‘recoil’ of Gerbaudo’s title is not that of a cannon or rifle but that found among conglobate insects and mammals – armadillos, pangolins and woodlice, for example – who defend themselves by rolling up into tight balls. Gerbaudo, who teaches at King’s College London, is concerned especially